March 20, 2019 / 7:20 PM / in 4 months

Albania signs deal for airport upgrade in northern Kukes

TIRANA, March 20 (Reuters) - The Albanian government has signed a 35-year concession with two domestic companies to overhaul and operate an airport at the northernmost town of Kukes, an official said on Wednesday.

Transport Minister Belinda Balluku said the government had approved the contract with Global Technical Mechanics and Bami, requiring them to invest 8 million euros ($9.1 million) to upgrade the airport and to start flights at Kukes in 24 months.

She said preliminary studies forecast 300,000 passengers would fly out of Kukes initially and low-cost carriers such as Wizz Air, easyJet, Ryanair and Turkey’s Pegasus had shown interest.

The small airport was built with a gift of $20 million dollars from the United Arab Emirates in recognition of Albania’s hospitality to refugees who sought safety from war-torn Kosovo at Kukes in 1999.

Since its completion in 2006 the airport has not been used because Tirana International Airport (TIA) had exclusive rights to international flights. Operated by China Everbright since October 2016, TIA waived that exclusivity in April that year. ($1 = 0.8810 euros) (Reporting by Benet Koleka Editing by David Goodman)

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